OFF TOPIC-T-handle auger for tapping maples

Feb 1, 2012
It's that time of year again in the PNW, time to tap our maples and make syrup! It's hard to tie this in well with an axe forum but I thought a few of you might enjoy this anyway. There is a hatchet photo involved plus T-handle auger use.

Almost no one taps up here because we don't have sugar maples. But we have an abundance of Oregon Big Leaf Maples. Our maples don't have as high of sugar content so it takes more sap to make syrup. My sap typically boils down about 40:1 into syrup. So a 5-gallon jug of sap makes a pint of syrup. Sugar maple sap reduces about 25:1 to 20:1.

I'll start with some of the equipment I use. It starts with a 7/16" auger. Sometimes I use a T-handle, sometimes I use a bit & brace and sometimes I use a power drill.

I buy stainless steel spiles from Lehman's. I'm running just 10 taps. I also bring a claw hammer for driving or pulling spiles and sometimes a saw or hatchet. I strap a 5 gallon water jug to a pack frame to go collect my sap. Some days I have to wear snowshoes.

The T-handle auger is slower than the bit and brace but it's also lighter and takes up less space. Today I was just moving a few taps so I used the T-handle.

When the weather is right and the sap is flowing you sometimes have a drip going before you can get the jug under the tap. Note the little hatchet leaning against the tree. Sometimes if the bark is thick or mossy I'll shave it off with a hatchet. That one is a Craftsman (Vaughan).

I slip the hook into a small hole I made in the handle.

Then I twist the jug under the spile.

Each tree is different. In good weather some trees will produce a gallon a day. Others might only give up a quart. I 'prospect' and try new trees if one isn't producing well.


Sometimes my red leaf maple in my front yard will produce 2 gallons in a day.

I boil on weekends. A good week will produce 15 gallons of sap which makes 3 pints of syrup. I strain my sap through a fine mesh coffee filter and boil it in a 20"d pan over the burner for a turkey deep fryer. The larger your pan the faster if boils down because there is more surface area to steam off of.

I've been doing this for 10 years and it just dawned on me today that I could effectively increase the size of my pan (at least the evaporation rate) by blowing a fan on it. This worked well and saved a good bit of fuel.

Once it's been mostly reduced I bring it into the kitchen to finish it. I want to watch it closely as it's finishing. Maple syrup has a higher boiling point than water. As you boil your sap and concentrate the sugars the boiling point increases. Syrup is done when it reaches 7°F above the boiling point of water at your elevation. The boiling point of water decreases by about 1°F for every 500' above sea level. I'm about 500' above sea level so I take mine up to 218°F. Then I can it in sterile jars just like canning jelly or anything else.

I use quart jars for myself but also can cups and half cups to pass around to friends. This stuff is liquid gold. My syrup is much stronger flavored than the syrup from the east coast. It might be because I have to concentrate it more or it might just be the flavor of my maples. In any case I've developed a taste for the stronger syrup. My friends and I prefer my home made syrup to the store bought real maple syrup from back east.

Hope you enjoyed the story and photos.
Getting ready to tap here in Maine. Still too cold for it to run but It should get going soon. A few days won’t make it out of the 20s this week. I have a small home made evaporator that requires a lot of small wood, that equals lots of splitting.

Thanks for the pictures square peg. I will include some of my hobby operation when I get going.
Thanks, Maine20. I figured there must be other tappers here given that we have so many members from the NE. I'll be pleased to see your operation. Feel free to add it to this thread iif you like.
Do you have trouble with tree bores entering in May via your bored holes from February? (clearwing) Nine pints doesn't seem like much. Nice write up.
Thanks, DM
Last edited:
In my experience the holes heal over in a season or two. Everything I have read says to let them heal naturally, no plugs or sealer.
In my experience the holes heal over in a season or two. Everything I have read says to let them heal naturally, no plugs or sealer.

That's what I've been reading the last few years, too. I used to always plug. Not anymore. If I move a tap during the season I'll put a temporary plug in the hole just to stop it from dripping. But when the season is over those plugs are pulled.

I haven't had any health issues with my trees. The one in my front yard was first tapped in 2009 when it was a 10"d tree. Since then I've been watering that tree every summer and it's a 21"d tree now. Big full canopy - healthy as can be.
We have bark beetles in our oaks and thus I was wondering about your Maple trees. Carry on. DM
It's interesting how the stain runs up the tree in the sap wood. Great photo! Thanks for sharing it.

It's funny, your season is just starting up while mine is already winding down. I'll probably do my last boil this weekend - depending on the weather.
Finally got my taps in, 24 in all. I should make 3-4 gallons of syrup depending on the weather. Yes an axe was involved, 100+year old WM Beatty carpenters hatchet.

8x12 sugar shack in the back ground.

Not the best picture but the upper part of a metal roof sheet hinges open to let the steam out.

Redneck evaporator with forced draft. 2 full-sized stream table pans fit in the top. Sap self feeds and gets preheated through copper tube.

Drop lines to 5 gallon bucket

Standard tree bucket, I also have a few in gallon milk jugs.
Great operation! Looks very productive. Are they dripping yet? What are your daytime and nightime temperatures like now?

My trees have dried up and I pulled my taps last weekend.
Just barely starting to run for my trees. It got up to 42 today should drop in the 20s tonight. Later this week the temps look better. A lot of my trees are shaded by pines so a temp swing from mid 20s to mid to upper 40s is ideal. Trees with lots of sun will run at temps closer to feezing.